Pandora and the Music Genome Project


Yesterday Ari and I attended a talk by Tim Westergren, the founder of Pandora and the Music Genome Project (the talk was held at Housingworks Bookstore Cafe, which I'll cover in another post). 

To step back for those not familiar with either, the Music Genome Project is an attempt to break down music into hundreds of attributes, a musical taxonomy, in order to have a complex database of what specific elements within a strong attract a listener.  Once a characterization of a listener's genome interests is developed, more accurate predictions about what a user likes to listen to can be made.  Pandora is a streaming radio interface built on top of the Music Genome Project that lets you 'kick off' a radio station with a song of your choice and then as you rate positive or negative, the radio player tailors around the very specific characteristics that they notice you prefer over time.  Most people that have used Pandora at all find that it is usually exceptionally accurate at achieving its goal.

Tim gave us the entire history of how Pandora came to be, starting with his failed career as a musician, and the years he was completely bankrupt during the dot-com bust.  He developed the idea for the Music Genome Project when he was working as a film composer, trying to pick out soundtrack songs while a director gave him the attributes of a song he felt needed to fit into a scene.  Some additional interesting facts came out about Pandora during the talk:

  • Currently there are 500,000 songs in the Music Genome Project, growing by 15,000 each week at this point
  • 50 trained professional musicians spend up to a half hour per song breaking each song down into 400 classifications
  • Pandora is the single largest referrer to Amazon and iTunes for music sales
  • At peak during the day up to 1.5% of all global internet bandwith is being used by Pandora

He also told us about the recent issue with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act coming to an end and the proposed fee increase on radio streams that was expected to crush internet radio.  When this happen, Pandora asked their users to write their senators and request action be taken against this.  During the first week, 400 thousand fans called or faxed their congressman, and overall 1 million calls or faxes (out of 1.4 million total) hit congressman overall.  Because of this a hold was put on the bill and new negotiations are currently taking place.  This is apparently one of the quickest and most effective grass routes political movements ever (which is a larger discussion).

Overall the talk, which was more an active Q & A by the audience, was fantastic, and I definitely recommend you attending next time he comes to town if you are interested at all in music or internet startups.

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